THE celebration said it all.
No sooner had he driven a ball from Hampshire pace bowler Gareth Berg through backward-point and out towards the West Stand than Yorkshire’s Adam Lyth softly punched the air as he realised that it was travelling to the boundary to raise his first County Championship hundred for over a year.
Then, as the reality of the milestone began to sink in, Lyth took an angry swipe at the pitch with his bat before shaking the hand of non-striker Jonny Tattersall.
Batsmen do not usually take an angry swipe at the pitch on reaching three-figures, so Lyth’s reaction was telling in the extreme.
It was as if he was saying, “about ruddy time”. There was anger in that celebration, as well as delight.
For someone who has played seven Tests (far too few, some would say, for a man of his talent), 15 months is a long time without a Championship hundred.
I felt back to something like my best,” said Lyth. “I feel like I’ve been on the wrong end of some pretty average (umpiring) decisions lately, and it’s been a very frustrating season really in red-ball cricket.Adam Lyth
His last one was an innings of 100 exactly against Lancashire at Headingley – his only Championship hundred of last year to boot.
By the time rain ended play here after lunch on day three, with only the morning session escaping its clutches, Lyth had advanced to 134 and Yorkshire to a score of 287-5 in their second innings, a lead of 314.
Victory today would guarantee their First Division survival, while a draw – perhaps the likeliest result given another indifferent weather forecast – would leave them needing a maximum of two points from their final match next week away to Worcestershire, who were relegated by their innings defeat to Essex at Chelmsford – a result that also made Hampshire mathematically safe.
To all intents and purposes, Yorkshire are safe as well, with next week’s contest a dead rubber in everything but name.
Indeed, Yorkshire are more miffed that their victory chances here have been hampered by the weather; they went into this game talking not so much of avoiding the drop, but of potentially finishing as high as third.
Lyth’s innings was symbolic, too, of a side who have rallied strongly in recent days, quashing any serious threat of relegation.
The 30-year-old left-hander was not without moments of fortune along the way – he was dropped on 80 and 94 by substitute wicketkeeper Aneurin Donald off left-arm spinner Liam Dawson, with Donald on for Tom Alsop, who has an injured left thumb.
“I felt back to something like my best,” said Lyth. “I feel like I’ve been on the wrong end of some pretty average (umpiring) decisions lately, and it’s been a very frustrating season really in red-ball cricket.
“I’ve been lining the ball up pretty well and getting no rewards, and you probably saw by my reaction when I ended up getting to the landmark, getting to the hundred, how pleased I was.
“There was a bit of frustration in there too, but I managed to play quite a nice innings and help put the team into a very strong position.”
On a pitch that has got easier as the match has gone on, with the violent wind of day two happily vanished, Lyth had 60 and Tattersall 14 when Yorkshire resumed on 172-4.
Tattersall was dropped on 16 off Kyle Abbott by first slip Ian Holland, who was put off when the substitute wicketkeeper dived across him, but Yorkshire’s fifth-wicket pair took their stand to 133 before Tattersall was finally removed for 43, top-edging a sweep off Dawson to short fine-leg – the only wicket on a mainly sun-kissed morning.
Moments earlier, Lyth had reached his 23rd first-class hundred from 179 balls with 13 fours, his trademark cover drives in resplendent order.
Lyth’s previous best Championship score this season was 70 against Lancashire at Old Trafford in July, also the scene of one of his two one-day hundreds this year in the Royal London Cup, the other coming against Leicestershire at Grace Road.
Lyth also survived a strong appeal for caught behind off Dawson the ball after he was dropped by Donald, leading to a petulant reaction from the bowler in particular.
Dawson continued to chirp at Lyth, his mood further aggravated when team-mate Sam Northeast practically waved a four across the mid-wicket boundary instead of diving in an effort to stop the ball. The weather, alas, had the final word, with the ground soon submerged in pools of water.
“We could do with this rain shifting,” lamented Lyth.
But the bigger picture – both for player and club – is a good deal brighter than it has been for much of the season. Hampshire coach Craig White said: “That’s great (to avoid relegation). The last few years we’ve been coming into the last game of the season in a massive relegation battle.
“With one game left, knowing we’re safe is a great feeling. It’s quite a relief actually.”